ARLINGTON, Texas — While the All-Star fate of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Adolis García rests in the hands of the consumer, Kyle Gibson's lies with a joint effort between the players and the Commissioner's Office.
No one would have though Gibson had a chance after his season got off to the worst possible start. He was pulled after just 1/3 inning and had a 135.00 ERA on Opening Day in Kansas City. Fast forward nearly three months later, the Texas Rangers ace — yes, ace — went into Saturday's rematch with the Royals with the American League's second-best pitching bWAR (3.7), third-best ERA (2.17), and seventh-best WHIP (1.06).
Gibson went out and, in front of 31,612 fans and a national TV audience, threw seven shutout innings, struck out 10 Royals, and lowered his season ERA to 2.00 — the best in the AL — as the Rangers won handily 8-0.
"I've been talking about it for the past couple of days," Gibson said with a smile. "Trying to get a little revenge."
The Rangers have done well recently with signing veteran pitchers to modest, three-year contracts and drastically increasing their value. They signed Mike Minor prior to the 2018 season, and he became a Cy Young candidate in 2019. Lance Lynn signed a nearly identical contract, and has become one of the best pitchers in the game ever since.
With Gibson, who signed the same three-year, $28 million contract as Minor, is looking like another great find for Jon Daniels and the Rangers front office.
"Everybody has been asking about him," said Rangers manager Chris Woodward. "With any coaching staff or any media, that's all they ask me about. 'What happened with Kyle?' I love sharing the story."
Gibson's first year didn't go so well. In the truncated 2020 season, he went 2-6 with a 5.35 ERA, a 1.53 WHIP, and a 5.39 FIP, the worst mark of his eight-year career. Even in a season that was drastically effected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to project Gibson as another brilliant signing.
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Dissatisfied with his performance in 2020, Gibson set out to prove the contract as a worthy investment.
"This guy wanted to be better," Woodward said. "He's an older guy that maybe could have just fallen into old patterns and said, 'I'm just going to do what I always do.' But he didn't. He said after last year he wasn't happy [with it]. He knew he was going to be here for another two years and wanted to figure things out."
Some things worked in Gibson's favor heading into this season. Most importantly, he wasn't coming off a season where he battled a flare up from his ulcerative colitis like he did last season. Now fully healthy, Gibson worked out the kinks with his mechanics and delivery, added a cutter to his repertoire, and is pitching with more confidence than he ever has in his career.
"Sometimes confidence comes with a little bit of success," Gibson said. "I try to not let my confidence be rooted in the results. Something I've learned over the years is you can't let your confidence be shaken by one start or anything like that. A lot of my confidence on the mound comes from my preparation and the work I do beforehand."
"He's all in," Woodward said. "He carries himself well. He's not stressed out out there. He reads the scouting report better than anybody. He knows what he wants to do every time out. Now he's given himself a physical and mental arsenal to go out there and do it. It's fun to watch."
While the cutter has added to an already extensive mix of pitches, Gibson's slider — his best pitch — compares with some of the best arms in baseball. No, he's not on the same level as Jacob deGrom. Nobody is. However, Gibson has a higher whiff percentage on his slider (43.2 percent) than Shohei Ohtani (40.0) and Gerrit Cole (39.1) and it has a lower xwOBA (.192) than Max Scherzer (.200) and Joe Musgrove (.240).
Make no mistake. As we near the halfway point, Gibson has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. And that Opening Day catastrophe feels like it belongs back in 2020.
"I don't see how he couldn't be [an All-Star]," Woodward said. "This guy has been dominant. ... Name me however many other pitchers that are going to be on the All-Star team that are better than him. You just can't come up with the names."
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